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News from Doha

March 19, 2012

The emirate Qatar, a British protectorate till 1971, is an absolute monarchy ruled by the Al Thani family. In 1995, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani became Emir when he seized power from his father in a coup d’état. Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani is a graduate of Britain’s Sandhurst military academy and was until the takeover defense minister.

Most of the influential and important positions in Qatar are held by the members of the Al Thani family. Qatar has close military ties with the USA and hosts the US Central Command’s Forward Headquarters and the Combined Air Operations Center.

Qatar is the richest country of the world due to huge oil and natural gas deposits (it is the worlds largest exporter of natural gas) and has attracted an estimated 100 billion US$ in investment, with about 70 billion coming from the USA.

With a population of only 260,000 people, the workforce is boosted by 1.7 million guest workers, mainly from other Arab nations, the Indian subcontinent, and Southeast Asia. Qatar does not have minimum wage standards and does not permit labour-unions. The authorities can cancel guest workers’ residency permits at any time, prevent workers from changing employers, and even deny permission to leave the country. Immigrant workers are regulated by a so called “sponsorship system.” which denies them basic human rights and amounts to modern-day slavery.

Qatari law is based on Sharia law and allows punishments like flogging and stoning (including the death penalty).

The emirate is a major backer of the Muslim Brotherhood and has long been hosting prominent clerics from other countries. For example Sheik Ali Salabi, a radical Libyan preacher who spent years in exile in Doha during Gaddafi’s reign, and Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who was forced to leave Egypt and has been living in Qatar since the 1960s, issuing fatwas (religious decrees) and writing philosophical works, many of which contain extremist notions (for instance support of Sharia-based governance and of terror acts like car bombings and suicide attacks).

Yusuf al-Qaradaw is also given ample airtime on Qatar’s news network Al Jazeera and he has in recent years become a television preacher with a weekly show and a following of tens of millions.

Qatar uses its wealth to support radical Islamist groups (Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists, Wahhabists) not only in Arab countries but also in Europe. Qatar funds many mosques in France and Italy, including a mega-mosque in Salemi, Sicily. Another mega-mosque is being built with Qatari funds in Cork, Ireland. The majority of these mosques are controlled by Muslim Brotherhood affiliates.

The emirate is the principal foreign supporter of Tunisia’s Islamist al-Nahda party, which won the parliamentary elections in October 2011.

The Muslim Brotherhood and the radical Salafists used generous funding by Qatar to win overwhelming victories in Egypt’s elections. The Salafist Ansar El-Sonna association alone received 30 million US$ from Qatar.

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Qatar’s investments in East Asia, Europe, and the USA in infrastructure projects, real estate, financial institutions, and even soccer clubs have turned the emirate into a key political player. 

Qatar’s royal family is stepping up its investment in the euro zone’s troubled banking sector with plans to buy private banking businesses from Franco-Belgium financial group Dexia and its Belgian rival KBC.

The emirate owns two percent of French energy giant Total, 1.1 percent of luxury goods group LVMH, 10 percent of French media company Lagardere and 5.6 percent of construction giant Vinci. In May last year, Qatar Luxury Group bought a controlling stake in French handbag maker Le Tanneur & Cie.

In 2010 Qatar bought the famous London department store Harrods for 2.3 billion US$ and recently became the sole shareholder of the soccer team Paris Saint-Germain, which is one of the worlds richest clubs, valued at 100 million Euros.

Qatar’s wealth is not only used for economic investments and peaceful political changes through the ballot box.

War investments

The emirate from early on took part in the war against Libya by supporting various militias with weapons (modern anti-tank missiles, assault rifles, telecom equipment) worth 400 million US$ and also with military trainers/advisors. Giant Qatari military transporters regularly unloaded tons of weaponry at Djerba airport in Tunisia, not far from the Libyan border and half of the emirates 12 Mirage 2000-5 jet fighters joined the NATO bombing campaign. The Qatari government recently acknowledged that it also had sent hundreds of troops to Libya.

After NATO’s victory, the newly installed NTC (National Transitional Council) soon discovered that Qatar is continuing to arm and fund Islamist militia groups and Mohammed Abdel Rahman Shalgam, Libya’s new envoy to the United Nations denounced Qatar’s actions at a conference in Tangiers last November: “They (Qatar) give money to some parties, the Islamist parties. They give money and weapons and they try to meddle in issues that do not concern them and we reject that.”

In February Qatar’s Ghanim Al-Ghanim Corporation together with rich Libyan businessmen established the company ”LIC country” with a capital of  100 million US$. Qatar Telecom and other Qatari companies are exploring investment options and Qatar wants to sell its Mirage jets to the new Libyan army, because it intends to exchange them for new Dassault Rafale jets.

The emirate’s involvement in the Palestinian conflict is also noteworthy. It recently has become a mediator between Fatah and Hamas and in February the Emir of Qatar called for an international investigation of all Israeli activity in Jerusalem since 1967 designed to “erase its Muslim and Arab sites.”

Qatar’s public activism on Palestinian issues doesn’t hurt Israel too much (or rather not at all) and has the goal to diminish Palestinian support for Syria. Key Palestinian policy makers from Hamas are allegedly paid by Qatar to criticize Bashar al-Assad and to call for his resignation and Hamas has moved out of Syria and is dispersing its leadership to Qatar and Egypt.

The Arab League has a rotating presidency, exercised in turns by each of the 22 member states. In 2011, Qatar convinced the Palestinian Authority to cede its Presidency in exchange for a donation of  400 million US$. This is the reason that Qatar at the moment still holds the presidency of the Arab League.

When the Arab League monitors in Syria issued a report that mostly exonerated the government, put the blame for the violence on insurgent groups, and stated that Syrian security forces never opened fire on peaceful protest demonstrations, Qatar disputed these findings, buried the report, and demanded the resignation of Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dhabi, the monitoring missions head.

Mohammed al-Dhabi refused, even after the Emir told him by phone that every man has a price and that it was up to him to fix his own and fill in the amount on a blank check sent by Qatar.

In the end the emirate made a grant available to Sudan (one of the poorest countries in the world) in exchange for General al-Dhabi’s withdrawal. After securing investments of two billion US$ the Sudanese President recalled Mohammed al-Dhabi back to Khartoum.

The Arab League report was later disclosed by a whistleblower and it makes indeed interesting reading, yet it was never cited in the Western media.

It is no surprise that the report was so completely ignored by the corporate-media world, because the Arab League monitors unalterably concluded that the Syrian government was in no way lethally repressing protestors and credited armed gangs of insurgents with the arsons and bombings against civilian trucks and buses, schools and other communal buildings, trains carrying diesel oil, police buses, bridges, and pipelines.

http://globalresearch.ca/Report_of_Arab_League_Observer_Mission.pdf

Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in November pushed the Arab League to suspend Syria and since then repeatedly called for military intervention.

Also in November the Syrian National Council sent a delegation to meet with Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi in Qatar and the SNC got via Libyan militias 100 million US$.

Over 10,000 men from Libya and other Arab countries are reportedly being trained in a closed-off zone in Jordan, ready to infiltrate Syria. The fighters are paid around 1,000 US$ a month, the operation is funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

According to the Arab news agency Al-Manar, the armed insurgent groups are coordinated from a military coordination office in Qatar, staffed by foreign agents. The office is said to have been established under US/GCC sponsorship and includes also CIA, MI6, and Mossad operatives.

Qatar has also made deals with Israeli and American companies to arm the insurgents and to acquire redundant weapons from Eastern Europe, which were shelved when the armed forces of former members of the Warsaw Treaty joined NATO and re-equipped troops with Western-made systems.

Qatari special operations units were assisting rebel forces in Homs by providing body armor, laptops, satellite phones, and by managing rebel communications.

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The news network Al Jazeera has become a unique and effective tool for the Qatari Emir. Al-Jazeera gives the conflicts within the Arab world a great deal of exposure, and this in itself provides the ruling dynasty with a certain level of immunity against criticism about its autocratic rule.

Al Jazeera is owned by the Emirate of Qatar through the Qatar Media Corporation and is based in Qatar’s capital Doha. The broadcaster, being first and foremost a commercial franchise, thrived on reporting bloody scenes from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and from the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Al Jazeeras offices in Kabul and Bagdad were subsequently bombed by US jets and cameraman Sami al-Hajj spent six years in Guantanamo Bay before he was cleared of all charges in 2008, giving the broadcaster much “Arab street credential.”

The reports about the “Arab Spring” uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt increased the networks popularity further and widened its appeal far beyond the Arab world. Regular critical background reports and insider analysis captured an audience which was wary of the uniformed and sanitized (self censored) reporting by Western media.

In 2004 Al Jazeera’s mainly Arabic speaking audience was estimated at 70 million.

The English channel started in 2006 and soon the network extended its reach into 250 million homes in more than 100 countries, yet cable and satellite companies in the USA refused its requests to be carried. 

But after the Web site’s live stream and a YouTube live stream attracted millions of viewers and after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton characterized Al Jazeera as “real news” that was winning against US media outlets, the enterprise made also big inroads in the USA.

It is estimated that Al-Jazeera now reaches some 36 million people every day.

The business plan is not difficult to understand: Dominate the Arab region and then, with English language broadcasts extend the brand throughout the world. The English language broadcasts provide both translation plus interpretation of authentic Arabic news coverage as well as news from other places that could be interesting for an international audience.

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Various commentators over the years were pointing out, that there is something weird about Al-Jazeera — that it isn’t what it seems, that its provenance, no less than its mission, is suspect.

This ranges from Israelis who think it is the ultimate pan-Arab cabal to Arabs convinced it has been funded by the CIA and Mossad or the Carlyle Group (an infamous US venture capital company). US networks publicly pondered if Al Jazeera didn’t have some special undisclosed relationship with the US government.

Non of this can be completely ruled out buy regardless of the plausibility and validity of any of the theories Al Jazeera appears to be in essence a business plus a propaganda tool in the same way as all the other TV channels are. It is television American style and accordingly its most important function (if it is to flourish) is to turn rebellious Arabs into eager consumers.

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Al-Jazeera director Wadah Khanfar resigned in September and was replaced with Sheikh Ahmad bin Jasem al-Thani, a member of the ruling family. Ahmad bin Jasem al-Thani in not a journalist, he has worked abroad and at home on petroleum engineering projects and is a former executive of Qatargas, he also sits on the board of Qatar’s University’s College of Engineering. 

Wadah Khanfar was regarded a successful director though he was not beyond question. He had links to the Muslim Brotherhood and diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks indicated that he negotiated with US officials about pending Iraq coverage and that he changed reports at US official’s request. It is also widely believed that Ahmad Mansur was taken out of the Iraq assignment because the USA insisted on it.

Since September a steady stream of changes have been made, most notably shifts in the Arabic news channel’s management team and a push to hire more Qatari citizens. The reorganization focuses on putting all of the network’s core division under 9 Executive Directors, and a General Legal Counsel. The general manager Mahmoud Bouneb and 30 members of senior staff at the Al Jazeera Children’s Channel have been dismissed.

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Al Jazeeras new coverage is more and more in line with the geopolitical ambitions and the cultural ideals of the al-Thani family.

When the Shia-majority opposition took to the streets in Bahrain, Al Jazeera remained silent. With Qatar keeping to the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council consensus, Bahrain weathered the storm and with Saudi Arabia’s help put down its opposition. Emir Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa didn’t have to worry about disturbing coverage of the bloody crackdown.

In contrast to this disinterest in Bahraini affairs Al Jazeera covered the Libyan war excessively. After the Libyan government was removed and Muammar Gaddafi killed, coverage of Libya ended and Al Jezeera since then focusses on Syria.

The reports from Syria paint a bleak picture of a bloodthirsty regime on a killing spree against helpless civilians, indiscriminately butchering thousands of innocent people, including women and children.

Somebody disgruntled with the diktat of channel management that the Syrian revolution (at least the SNC version of it) “must be televised” leaked raw footage about Homs and interviews — staged for maximum anti-regime effect — to Syria’s state television.

As’ad AbuKhalil, proprietor of the Angry Arab news blog, is no friend of Bashar al-Assad. He had this to say about recent programs on Syrian state TV:

“It seems that the Syrian regime had agents among the rebels; or it seems that the Syrian regime obtained a trove of video footage from Baba Amr. They have been airing them non-stop. They are quite damning. They show the correspondent or witness before he is on the air: and the demeanor is drastically different from the demeanor on the air and they even show contrived sounds of explosions timed for broadcast time…”

“This is really scandalous. It shows the footage prior to Al Jazeera reports: they show fake bandages applied on a child and then a person is ordered to carry a camera in his hand to make it look like a mobile footage. It shows a child being fed what to say on Al Jazeera.”

A few days ago the entire staff of Al Jazeera received an email instructing them to change their computer and email passwords. The network’s server had been intercepted by Syrian hackers, and some of its secrets were released to the media.

The major discovery made public was an email exchange between anchorwoman Rula Ibrahim and Beirut-based reporter Ali Hashem. The emails seemed to indicate widespread disaffection within the channel, especially over its coverage of Syria.

Rula Ibrahim protested that she had been utterly humiliated. “They wiped the floor with me because I embarrassed Zuheir Salem, spokesperson for Syria’s Muslim Brothers. As a result, I was prevented from doing any Syrian interviews, and threatened with transfer to the night shift on the pretext that I was making the channel imbalanced.”

Correspondent Ali Hashem in Beirut resigned after the leaked emails revealed his frustrations over the news channel’s coverage of Syria. The Beirut bureau’s managing director Hassan Shaaban and producer Mousa Ahmad went with him.

This are not the first high profile resignations. 

The head of the Beirut Bureau Ghassan Ben Jeddo, who worked for Al-Jazeera since 1997 after a successful career at BBC, has resigned already in April 2011.

Nour Odeh, The Ramallah correspondent for Al-Jazeera International, resigned in Jannuary 2011.

In June 2010 five Al-Jazeera anchorwomen quitted after being accused of not dressing modestly enough.

Other journalist who don’t work for Al Jazeera anymore are Afshin Rattansi, Don Debar, and former Al Jazeera English-language blogger Ted Rall.

Beside documenting the growing discontent and disillusionment of Al Jazeera’s journalists the intercepted emails revealed also the stunning fact, that Ahmad Ibrahim, who is in charge of the channel’s Syria coverage, is the brother of Anas al-Abdeh, a leading member of the opposition Syrian National Council.

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